Saturday, August 25, 2007

In other words, Don't let the bastards get you down...


Snow-laden bamboo branches
Hanging low, but remained above ground
When the red sun rises in the morn
They will reach up again to the clouds

- translated from the Chinese poem written on one of the banners (shown above) held by Hong Kong construction labourers in their protest against exploitation by their employers.

Image Credit: Littlelittle.org (reproduced here with the blogger's permission).
Further reading: http://www.seechuen.com/blog/?p=394

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The music won't last...


Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Do you run through each day on the fly
When you ask "How are you?" do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?
You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Ever told your child, We'll do it tomorrow
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, Let a good friendship die
'Cause you never had time to call and say "Hi"?
You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift....
Thrown away...
Life is not a race.
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over.

-Author Unknown

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Monday, August 20, 2007

My Little Sister...

... who has recently taken to e-mails (she was at a month-long summer camp abroad this summer, and now on a short trip to the UK with my parents) and who has taken to signing off her messages as:

Mui '_'

Not a smiley really, it looks a little sad, kind of just "I'm alright... .... (long elipsis)". However, I must say it really does kinda look like her usual expression... a little rueful, which does not befit her age (or perhaps it does? After all, she is a teenager now...)

... which made me wonder, how come I've never noticed it before? Why haven't I been paying attention?

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And finally...

On October 15th - Blog Action Day, bloggers around the web
will unite to put a single important issue on everyone's mind:
ENVIRONMENT

My last reply to Raymond Poon over his "scientific doubts", in which I've included links to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and EEA (European Environment Agency) materials:

Raymond, I've saved you the bother of looking up the actual report on man-made climate change's scientific basis from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change). If you even just to go the Summary for Policymakers from their lengthy "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis" report (http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Pub_SPM-v2.pdf), you'll find that the international scientific community has agreed on the following:

"The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution." (IPCC, 2007, p.2)

"The understanding of anthropogenic* warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR, leading to very high confidence7 that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2 (see Figure SPM.2). {2.3., 6.5, 2.9}" (IPCC, 2007, p. 3)

*For those who may not know, "anthropogenic" means "human-related".

So Raymond, what are your facts and figures upon which you base your doubts? Do you know what your kind of pessimistic inaction is costing us in terms of time???

"The latest IPCC report on climate change estimates that there are only TWO DECADES (my emphasis) to implement effective greenhouse gas reduction measures to control and limit global temperature increases. 'The sooner we act, the more effective and cost efficient efforts at controlling climate change will be,' said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA*." (source: http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/action-now-on-climate-change-makes-economic-sense)

*EEA stands for European Environment Agency, a European Union organisation "dedicated to providing sound, independent information on the environment", with 31 member countries (25 EU member states, plus Bulgaria, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Romania and Turkey).

Also, to supplement sources for the technological advances I've mentioned in my last post, go to the European Union's Environmental Technology Atlas (an interactive web information service that allows people to see what kinds of eco-technologies have been installed and what kinds of environmental research agencies are located in the different EU member states):

http://technologies.ewindows.eu.org/atlas_map

Raymond, please just admit that you're adopting the Doubting Thomas stance because you just don't care to change. It'll save us all a lot of time.

Follow-up Post:

Also, in case you would accuse me of only reading the easy intro bits of the Report, here's the conclusions from the IPCC Report's section (9.7) entitled "Combining Evidence of Anthropogenic Climate Change":

"The widespread change detected in temperature observations of the surface(Sections 9.4.1, 9.4.2, 9.4.3), free atmosphere (Section 9.4.4) and ocean (Section 9.5.1), together with consistent evidence of change in other parts of the climate system (Section 9.5), strengthens the conclusion that greenhouse gas forcing is the dominant cause of warming during the past several decades. This combined evidence, which is summarised in Table 9.4, is substantially stronger than the evidence that is available from observed changes in global surface temperature alone (Figure 3.6). The evidence from surface temperature observations is strong: The observed warming is highly significant relative to estimates of internal climate variability which, while obtained from models, are consistent with estimates obtained from both instrumental data and palaeoclimate reconstructions. It is extremely unlikely (<5%)that recent global warming is due to internal variability alone such as might arise from El Niño (Section 9.4.1)." (IPCC, 2007, p. 727)

And also,

"Climate models only reproduce the observed 20th-century global mean surface warming when both anthropogenic and natural forcings are included (Figure 9.5). No model that has used natural forcing only has reproduced the observed global mean warming trend or the continental mean warming trends in all individual continents (except Antarctica) over the second half of the 20th century. Detection and attribution of external influences on 20th-century and palaeoclimatic reconstructions, from both natural and anthropogenic sources (Figure 9.4 and Table 9.4), further strengthens the conclusion that the observed changes are very unusual relative to internal climate variability." (ibid.)

Above quotes drawn from Section 9 of the IPCC Working Group 1 "The Physical Basis of Climate Change" report (section heading: "Understanding and Attributing Climate Change"):

http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Pub_Ch09.pdf

The entire contents of the report can be downloaded from here:

http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html

The IPCC 4th Assessment Report is due out in November, 2007. This has:

2500+ Scientific Expert Reviewers

800+ Contributing Authors and

450+ Lead Authors from

130+ Different Countries

More info: http://www.ipcc.ch/

Update: I've also included an advance apology to Raymond regarding my unnecessarily harsh tone in my comments... I guess I've been losing patience as it's sooooo late in the night (or early in the morning... as my insomniac life has returned!)

Last but not least, Raymond, I would like to sincerely apologise in advance for my tone in the last couple of comments. In places I've sounded rather strident and self-righteous, whereas you've remained civil throughout our exchange, please forgive me for my totally unnecessary crassness. Thank you for providing the space to allow this debate to occur on your blog, and I do still hope that you could see through to the facts underneath my rather unpleasant tone...

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another environmentally-friendly post...

Apropos of my last post, below is my latest reply to Raymond Poon over on this blog...

Raymond wrote: "The wake up calls are ineffective as they do not wake people up. We need wake up atomic bombs."

As I said before, I think you're underestimating the public's green consciousness. While they may not have changed their behaviours yet (it takes 21 times to solidify a new habit), but most people in the developed world are aware of the problems of climate change, not least because it's something that they can actually see and feel themselves when they walk out the front door and when they turn on the news.

Raymond wrote: "I am reading a book on externalities which concerns, among other things, plastic bag tax. I may write some notes on the subject later. One point raised by sociologists is that such a tax does not restrict the rich. If you have money, you can use as many plastic bags as you like, or any other wasteful stuff; while the poor suffers."

This is a completely spurious argument on so many levels (And as a sociologist, I must say this does not sound like the kind of arguments that we sociologists would make, I think the term you're looking for is probably "die-hard Keynesian economists"). As I mentioned in my previous post, there ARE eco-alternatives to plastic bags that the shops can provide (paper bags, even the ones from unrecycled papers, are still more environmentally-friendly, as well as cheaper, than plastic bags), so the consumers, whether rich or poor, would not be inconvenienced (or "economically-disadvantaged") by a switch to non-plastic versions.

Moreover, the real world is far more complex than this overly-simplistic economic modelling of "rich" vs "poor" consumers, as shown in actual empirical cases (such as IRELAND). What we found in practice (and as illustrated by decades of marketing research) is that there are many distinct groups of consumers, depending on the product as well as the shop in question. Beautifully-printed paper bags from high-street shops (from fashion to homeware to electronics) are an unexpected positive externality that resulted from the introduction of plastic bag tax, making the switch to paper a desirable behaviour for the so-called "rich" consumers who don't want to pay extra for the old plastic bags even though they could well afford to. As regards low-value items such as groceries, the supermarkets have cheap tote bags that could be re-used again and again, so that even "poor" consumers, whether old-age pensioners or poor college students on grants, can well afford this as it's an "investment" that will last several years and can be used for other purposes. More fundamentally, you're ignoring the fact that, it is often the poor who are most versatile in saving and recycling (in HK, think of the iconic "red white blue" bags that are used by the poor working class to tote their belongings), who would be most used to carrying their own bags, so they would be least inconvenienced by the tax itself. The small plastic bag tax is simply a very effective economic disincentive for the so-called "rich" to continue their wasteful ways. (In reality, the so-called "rich" is actually the majority of the population because the tax is set at such a low level that lower-middle class consumers can well afford to pay if they really want to.) In Ireland, what allowed the 90% reduction of plastic bags to happen is that most people found that they don't want to continue to use plastic bags even when they could well afford them. Our desire for plastic is reduced because, for those who are educated and have a social conscience (which is most of the Irish population), this is the right thing to do and we do it (and we're helped into it by the shops who provide viable alternatives to plastic); and for those who just want to be "seen" to be green and hip, the eco-friendly bags are a new style item (which sounds to me to be quite similar to much of the HK populace).

One should recognise that there are positive as well as negative externalities to every economic intervention, the key for sustainable development is how to create positive externalities (bring businesses on board to create viable and desirable alternatives to consumers) and minimise the negative (ensure the tax is at a low enough level that the majority of the population will still be able to afford if they really them).

As I've reiterated several times, the HK government should be looking at real life case studies as the evidence base for policies, rather than on empty theories that don't stand the test of reality (remember our discussion over your post on the Traveller's Game?).

Raymond wrote: "I keep a copy of the film The Inconvenient Truth. At the same time, I also watched the BBC Channel 4 documentary the Global Warming Dwindle. One of them must be wrong. The facts that all of them agreed are the warming effects like melting icesheets, etc. The conflicting point is whether CO2 precedes warming or otherwise, and whether mankind is guilty or innocent. On the curve comparing historical CO2 concentration and temperature, both agreed that they are correlated, but the two cause and effect theories are just the opposite. I still cannot find the literature on the detailed data."

Frankly, Raymond, I cannot believe you're in actual fact a climate change denier. This whole "question" about whether climate change is man-made or not is the key plank of US Republicans' denial of any need for the government to do anything about it. The "debate" to which you refer is completely manufactured by individuals and organisations with vested business interests, and you cannot "find literature or detailed data" that support this denial because there is NONE. However, the whole international scientific community is in agreement over the link between CO2 from human activities and observed climate change. That's the reason why they are behind the Kyoto accord, which is specifically about committing national governments to changing their population's carbon emissions. So it's not about whether Al Gore is right or wrong, Al Gore's book (and film) is simply a medium to make concrete scientific facts about man-made climate change more accessible to the general public.

Moreover, can you provide the link to the documentary you're referring to? One thing you should realise is that BBC and Channel 4 are two different British broadcasters, with different programming departments, so is this documentary you're referring to BBC OR Channel 4? I watch both channels regularly here and I haven't seen the one that you mentioned. And I must say, well-respected as these broadcasters are (actually Channel 4 not as well-respected especially after their racist Big Brother debacle), I cannot believe you're basing your arguments over 1 television programme as a rebuttal to decades of painstaking research by scientists all over the world.

Raymond wrote: "However, while the debate goes on, the Earth gets warmer. It is high time to think of living in a warm Earth, such as protecting land from the rising sea, and alternative sources of fresh water."

Again, I must say I'm a bit gobsmacked that somebody as well-read as you are seem not to realise that there are already technological advances made in these areas.

There are already well-established water treatment technologies to collect rainwater from the roof-tops of both high-rises and individual houses to reduce water consumption from the mains. These have been in use in recent skyscraper projects in Manhattan; while the UK government has grants for individual home-owners to install rainwater recylcing systems for their houses.

And if you look to countries like the Netherlands, they already have advanced systems and contingency plans (including floating houses!) for tackling the rise of sea levels. This is what a good government should do - they listen to scientists and plan for the long-term and they put money where their mouth is and invest in projects that serve the public interest. Disasters like the Hurricane Katriona in the US happened precisely because the government don't care and didn't do the required maintenance work on their levee systems.

It's funny, but scientists have been developing these technologies for decades, way before members of the general public finally began to catch on and think it's "high time" to start thinking of these things!


Of course, others would be able to present the arguments for all global citizens to do something much more effectively than I could above. In particular, I am really excited about the upcoming indie film, The 11th Hour. It promises to be even more comprehensive than Al Gore's seminal "An Inconvenient Truth", with interviews from a whole range of prominent scientists and engineers and economists and even politicians. Here's an excerpt of what Salon.com has to say about it:

[...] what's so remarkable about Petersen and Conners' experts is the sheer breadth of expertise they offer. There are big thinkers able to discuss the overarching topics of human history and technology, like environmental scientists Stephen Schneider and David Suzuki, mathematician Stephen Hawking, and authors Nathan Gardels, Richard Heinberg and Bill McKibben.

Every so often in the movie, one of those guys drops the kind of paradigm-shifting bomb that clears your mind and your sinuses. Suzuki observes that the specific evolution of the human brain, which allowed us to conquer the planet and ensure our species' survival, has now put both the species and the planet in grave peril. Gardels summarizes the problem of consumer society in a single sentence: "You can never get enough of what you don't really want." Thom Hartmann says that we've been borrowing the energy of "stored sunlight" for the last 150 years, without developing a strategy about what to do as it gets harder and harder to find.

Just as important, at least in deflecting right-wing naysayers and critics, is the fact that the filmmakers call on numerous experts in specific scientific or philosophical disciplines to illuminate particular problems and their potential solutions. They've got engineers, architects, economists, physicians, oceanographers, land-use geographers, theologians and environmental scientists. They've got eco-activists, New Age gurus and Native American spiritual leaders, sure. But they've also got a former World Bank senior economist (Herman Daly), a former head of the CIA (James Woolsey) and a one-time world leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (Mikhail Gorbachev).

What all these people have to say adds up to a fairly simple message: You can't separate one environmental issue, like global warming, from a huge, interconnected complex of issues that include air and water pollution, deforestation and habitat destruction, hurricanes and floods, famine and drought, and the toxic dumping that is poisoning poor communities all over the world. Nor, in the final analysis, can you separate environmental and economic problems. The global environmental catastrophe is not a problem for rich, white Westerners to worry about; if anything, rich, white Westerners will face its most devastating effects last. And finally, it's really not a question of "saving the planet" but of saving ourselves. In the long, long arc of genetic and geological history, the planet will probably be OK. Whether people will still be able to live on it -- that we don't know.

[...]

In a sense, the filmmakers and their sources argue, the problem and its solutions are straightforward. We need to transform the world's economy, and do it yesterday. Yes, some groundbreaking research is still needed, but it's not as if the technology for both intermediate solutions (hybrid and electric cars, biodiesel, wind farms) and more long-term ones (solar power and possibly hydrogen fuel cells) does not exist.

Still, if these people are right and we've now arrived at virtually the last moment for avoiding total disaster, the obstacles are daunting, even terrifying. On one hand, no political leaders anywhere in the world -- not even the pious bureaucrats of the European Union -- have come near the kind of mega-Manhattan Project determination needed to address these issues. But we can't really blame the shortsightedness and corruption of politicians, which is after all their nature; that's like blaming an alligator for eating chickens. If we're not willing to rouse ourselves, individually and collectively, from the consumerist stupor that defines life in, well, everyplace where people aren't literally starving to death, then perhaps the species isn't worth saving.

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An environmentally-friendly conference...

Just received an e-mail calling for submissions to an academic conference with a difference - delegates are to meet online only. Below is excerpted from the invitation:
The Fit Project at the Open University is proud to be hosting the 1st International e-Conference on Fit. It will take place online (the environmentally-friendly way of getting colleagues together) on the 20th-22nd November 2007 and it is completely free. (original emphasis)
I'm sure this is not the first e-conference to be held in virtual space, but it is the first in the management field that I'm aware of, with the discipline not related to information management or e-commerce or some such. No, this is a "traditional" HR conference that has chosen to be conducted online, for expressly environmental reasons. (Though of course, with the organisers being from Open University, they are used to long-distance/virtual delivery of materials).

To be honest, my first reaction was a bit negative, for I'm kinda sadden by the prospect that, if this is the way for all academic conferences in the future, there won't be any more visits to other interesting places in the world that allow me to combine work and pleasure (see for example here and here) and let me experience another culture first hand, and I won't be able to meet my overseas PhD friends in real life and catch up with them with drinks in a real bar and have memorable meals at wonderful restaurants around the world...

At the same time though, I am really glad that we academics are walking the talk and changing the way we do business in a more environmentally-friendly direction. By doing our own little bit to reduce excessive air travel (the big conferences attract a few thousand delegates each, most of whom would travel by return flights, and many of these in turn would involve long-distance flights; so the carbon-footprint of academic conferences is actually quite big when one comes to think of it, especially when one considers also that a typical academic will usually attend at least a couple of these conferences per year), we are no longer simply concerned with the hypothesis of green living, but its actual practice (which is particularly pertinent to the debate I was having with Raymond Poon over on his blog).

Looking at the conference site in more details, the papers are restricted to 4 A4 pages "for ease of online viewing", but there are still going to be keynote speakers and workshops, as well as a conference presentation schedule. This makes me curious as to what technology they would use to achieve these, especially when the registration is free and the conference aims to be inclusive: live podcasts? Youtube clips? online discussion forums and chat rooms? IMs and Yahoo groups? Facebook even? While it's extremely common practice for academic conferences and workshops to have online registration and to hold papers and abstracts on their conference site for delegates' review before the conference (in fact, the internet is essential for the conference paper reviewing process when reviewers come from all four corners of the world), and some have also taken to providing online messaging system during the conference itself to facilitate delegate networking, I have yet to come across a non-TM/IM conference to run itself completely online. How will the delegates interact with each other when meeting only in virtual space? Would they produce more learned debates because of the text-based format? How will the organisers plan their conference schedule to accommodate the different time zones? Will there be space for delegates to socialise with one another beyond presentations and workshops? Would they still develop the same kind of conference camaraderie when not meeting face to face? Will there be a virtual conference dinner, perhaps via Facebook apps? (Oh I forgot, the registration is free, so there won't be any din-dins, virtual or not).

Although my field is not HR, the format of the conference is intriguing enough for me to consider signing up, just to "see" what happens.

[update: on an even closer read, the conference organisers have already answered many of my above questions:
We hope that the e-conference will be more than the presentation and discussion of research-oriented papers. There will be a cafe zone where delegates can catch-up, renew acquaintances and, hopefully, form new friendships. There will also be a surgery where you can submit your in-progress papers for friendly critique. There will be a teaching zone which provides ideas for people who want to communicate fit-related ideas to students. And there will be a noticeboard where you can publicise any fit-related matters.
Hmm, sounds interesting, I wonder what the cafe zone would actually be like? Would academics don online avatars to chat in this virtual cafe? Ermm... probably not on second thoughts, I don't think we're that creative yet]

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Monday, August 06, 2007

BBC Summer Proms

[Update: just found out from Alexander Kobrin's own website that he has upcoming performances scheduled for Hong Kong (Sheung Wan Cultural Centre) and Singapore, but none really near where I am! Those of you based in HK are such lucky so-and-sos!]

With the dreary thundery weather in this August bank holiday weekend where most if not all of the usual outdoor festivities, from rock concerts to the world cultural festival, were forced to cancel, and with flooding in some city centre streets, there was nothing much that anyone could do but stay indoors and mope. It turned out now that both of the long weekends this summer in Dublin have been a complete wash-out: the one in June when my family and I headed to the Bloom festival in Phoenix Park hoping for views of lovely show gardens rivaling those at the Chelsea Garden Show, and came back with muddy trousers from trudging through miles of mucky paths and much-lowered expectations of what the Dublin version could achieve (we did bought a couple of lovely pot plants though!).

The BBC summer proms is therefore a godsend in the given circumstances this long weekend. I don't normally watch classical music on television but through channel-surfing I chanced upon the BBC Summer Proms and caught a glimpse of the Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin performing, and I was immediately mesmerised...



The piece was Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Flat Major. The orchestra was the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) in Britain, with Mark Elder as the conductor. The setting was the Royal Albert Hall. Other than having been to the Royal Albert Hall about a decade ago to see Madame Butterfly with two Japanese friends when I was an undergrad, and other than having heard a few Prokofiev pieces being played in concerts I've been to at the National Concert Hall here in Dublin, I had really no knowledge of the actual musicians nor of the piece itself prior to my witnessing the performance.

How delightfully surprised I was then by this utterly magical performance! Alexander Kobrin was electrifying in his piano-playing, with completely assured control of the keyboard and the rhythm, expressively articulating the strength of emotions without letting them grotesquely overtake his demeanour the way Lang Lang's performance of a similarly boisterous piece did (My sister and I saw Lang Lang in Dublin last year and I came away rather disgusted at his overbearing theatricality, even though we still obtained his autograph and had a photo with him!).

But the thing that really entralled me about his performance, and the reason I thank the Lord for this BBC television broadcast, is the sheer chemistry between Alexander Kobrin the pianist and Mark Elder the conductor and the National Youth Orchestra as a whole. The endings and beginnings of phrases were communicated by the slight raising of the eyes to meet the conductor's, each watching the other's body language, both closely observed by the orchestra, and all telepathically played right on cue and created an integrally sublime piece of music.

I'm really grateful to the BBC because what I was able to watch on screen at home was much more than I could have seen if I had to get a ticket to go to the Royal Albert Hall instead, even if I could shell out big bucks for the good ones. I wouldn't have been able to see by close-up the pianist's hands on the keyboard and how he really interpreted the piece (unless I was right up front, but then I would lose out on the sound quality). I wouldn't have been able to immediately locate the different soloists in the different sections when their turn came, and much less see their facial expressions (hitherto I had thought that there is no real need to see a classical musician's performance, that hearing is far more important; after this though, I'm beginning to think differently as I was as much affected by their physical expressions as the aural). What's more, being unfamiliar with this piece myself, I would have been at quite a bit of a loss (especially given that I just missed the very beginning of it), if the BBC hadn't been quite so kind and thoughtful as to provide live on-screen performance notes via its digital service. This is really such a wonderful use of digital technology - I was able to follow the ups and downs of the whole piece because at each change of pace and at each appearance of new figures there are notes right at the bottom of the screen to explain what is happening. This help me appreciate the performance much more in real time, rather than my usual concert-going experience of listening with my own mind and then vainly trying to match my memories to the descriptions in the concert programme afterwards.

At the end of their performance, I couldn't help but applaud even though I was sitting in my own home rather than at the actual venue, but Kobrin really deserved all the rapturous applause he got from the appreciative RAH audience. There is indeed immense athleticism and energy in Kobrin's playing, but not at all the showy kind, which is as rare as finding a genuine good-looking guy who is also genuinely down-to-earth rather than behaving as if he's God's gift to women (hah, I think I finally hit the nail on the head now as to why I dislike Lang Lang so much in spite of his obvious talent - it is really his vanity, performing as if he's God's gift to music!).

I would be watching out for Alexander Kobrin in future and would fight to get a ticket to hear him again (incidentally, Kobrin, being born in 1980, is one year younger than my brother! If only my brother's as talented and humble!). It's really sweet when, at the end of the performance and he was presented with a bouquet of red flowers, he passed it to the leader of the orchestra, a young Chinese woman who heads the violin section. It's only at the end of the performance when I realise from the presenter's voiceovers that the orchestra is a youth orchestra comprising of musicians between the ages of 13 to 18!!! OMG, 13 to 18 and they are already playing as great as they did!! I really wouldn't have guessed at their age during their performance as they all looked so mature and professional! The Chinese girl was later interviewed by the presenter during the interval along with one of her NYO colleagues, and I learnt that her name is Amy Yuen. There are quite a number of young Asian musicians among the NYO playing the Proms, and I am really, really proud of them!

Incidentally also, the Piano Concerto they played was the first one written by Prokofiev when he was only 21 years old! What a blessing it is to have such a youthful piece performed by an extremely talented young piano soloist and backed by an equally-talented and even more youthful orchestra!

Although it was Kobrin's playing that captured my heart, the NYO went on to play an altogether much more complex piece, the "Leningrad" symphony no. 7 in C Major by Shostakovich. This is a truly magnificent work, a complicated, yet immensely moving piece that describes the onset of the Second World War and its bloody progress in the siege of Leningrad and the aftermath. And the explanations from the onscreen notes help greatly in decoding the different motifs being used in the different movements, as well as the historical significance of the piece. Shostakovich wrote it at the time of the Second World War itself, when Leningrad was actually under siege by the Nazis, and it served as a rallying call for Russians when it was first broadcasted for those trapped in the city, and apparently the Russian general had an assistant who had the music so that he could command his troops to stop firing during the quiet passages.

Here, the NYO really came into their own: the soloists from each section played assuredly when their turns came, which must have been quite daunting when the entire movement hinges on your single notes in the entire Royal Albert Hall! The rise and fall of emotions were coaxed beautifully through the various movements and really made the piece came alive! Mark Elder really did a fine job spending just eight days with these young ones. Oh, I'm really grateful I have heard and seen this performance. These young musicians are truly inspirational! Hats off to them!

(and thanks to the BBC, I can now relive the performance through their podcast (click on the link for Prom 29), though I have to say the Radio 3 quality is unfortunately far, far from the perfection I heard even just through the telly).

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Savage Chickens: Align and Deliver Cartoon

Savage Chickens: Align and Deliver Cartoon
Sometimes it's funny how several recent unrelated posts from different blogs I follow all chime in on the same subject - in this case, plagiarism. In addition to the brilliant Savage Chicken toon above, see also Diuman Park and Central St Martin Student.
It's tragic though how some people don't seem to understand the difference between plagiarism and imitation - but is precisely something which has been drummed into me since my undergrad years. Again, I am quoting my own response over at Diuman Park on one of the commenter's lines (again, my dratted typos in the original are amended here):

"抄襲與inspired by,其實一線之差"
Yes, but that line is a a very clear line: plagiarism means you did not acknowledge the originator of the idea at all; "inspired by" means that you are.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple acknowledgement to turn an insult to originality into the sincerest form of flattery.

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How to come to terms with the past...

[Post updated in the early morning of 3 Aug] Just found the below clip from Lam Fai's blog. He said it almost made him cry that day when he heard the speech at the Queen's Pier... Now thanks to Youtube, I also have the honour to hear 朱凱迪's heart-rending description of the little-known history of civic participation in Hong Kong, and have no qualms about letting my tears fall for Hong Kong while in the comfort of my Dublin home...



What made me sad is that, if I had not happened upon Lam's blog, I would never have known that, actually, the protestors have a much more comprehensive understanding of the historical significance of the Queen's Pier than HK mainstream media (and indeed much of the HK blogosphere) gave them credit for. Indeed, if I never stumbled upon Lam's blog, I would have thought that the protestors really didn't have a clue what they were protesting about, that there was not one charismatic speaker in the group who could articulate their protest rationale clearly, that it was the government who has "won" the argument...

I am really grateful to find that these impressions are but smokescreens that sought to mislead the public (unfortunately they succeeded). Chu's speech is a wake-up call to Hong Kong people that "the history of Hong Kong is not just about how we turned from a fishing village into a cosmopolitan city. No, we are so much more than that." That our history is not simply about how economically-successful we have been, but there also exists a rich history of citizen action that we have ignored, let alone celebrate. But it is precisely this history which is crucial to how HK people develop socially and politically.

The significance of Queen's Pier lies in the very special role it has played over the decades in providing the space for the public expression of civic dissent against government policies. Its importance lies NOT in its uniqueness within the city's architectual heritage, and its significance is NOT even so much about protecting our colonial past, but in being an invaluable public space that enabled the expression of citizens' discontent with prevailing government policies, both pre- and post-1997. That for 40 years, scores of Hong Kong people have utilised the Queen's Pier as the place to voice their dissent, dissent that ultimately led to the official recognition of Chinese language under the British administration, the legal protection of workers' and women's rights, etc.... The Queen's Pier is thus the birth place for civic participation in Hong Kong, and its significance is therefore on a par with the Washington Monument in the U.S., which became significant not because its obelisk was a particularly notable piece of architecture, but because of Dr. Martin Luther King's Million People March. This truly "public" space, with its distinguished history of civic protest, is irreplaceable.

Words cannot express how despondent I am at the thought that such an important site in the history of civic participation in Hong Kong - a history that is especially important in the context of the current struggle for democracy in HK - will soon be covered under miles of highway tarmac... I'm so sorry that there is so little I can do...
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Below is a commentary I wrote in response to a post by Yat Chee over at Diuman Park, who discussed the absurdity of the arguments being put forward by those HK people who actually support the destruction of the Queen's Pier. I like his efforts, but I actually think these silly excuses about our "shameful" past could be tackled differently - by taking their word and agreeing that it WAS shameful, but precisely because it was shameful, WE SHOULD NOT BE RUNNING AWAY FROM OUR PAST:

"當年在天星小輪絕食抗議而觸發暴動的蘇守忠,說贊成政府拆皇后碼頭,原因是殖民地色彩太濃厚,是殖民統治的權力象徵"

Even if "皇后碼頭" really has "too much" 殖民地色彩, and even if we all agree that monuments like it will "勾起當殖奴的苦難回憶" and are testaments to the 奇恥大辱 of the Qing dynasty, these are all the more reasons FOR preserving the Queen's Pier and Star Ferry, NOT AGAINST.

Look at how well the Jewish people work towards preserving the memories of the Holocaust! Nobody would deny that the Holocaust is one huge 奇恥大辱 for the Jews, and yet, unlike the Chinese, they assiduously preserve this important part of their past, because they want future generations to remember their history, warts and all. There's no airbrushing of shameful past by, let's say, replacing the Krakow concentration camp with shiny new buildings. No, the "shameful past" is preserved so that new generations would not forget the important lessons from the horrors of the Holocaust; and there are dedicated scholars who try their darnedest to preserve the oral histories of the few remaining Holocaust survivors.

Contrast that attitude with the Chinese government, which never really bothers with properly preserving the historical evidence and relics of the Japanese occupation, because history is never something high on their priority list, especially something to do with 國恥. The result is that, the administration just glosses over that part of the history, to the extent that it never offered any support to the rape victims of the Japanese army when they demanded legitimate reparations for the Japanese war crimes from the Japenese government. the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong ostensibly suppressed the mention of the Nanking Massacre from public discourse. Until very recently, the authorities have never bothered to properly preserve evidence of the Nanking massacre.

And the result of such denial? Elements of the far-right Japanese society pretend the Nanking massacre never really happened, that it was all a fantasy. AND their denial is enabled by the Chinese government's own passive denial of this shameful past. It doesn't look good to remind ourselves that we have been attacked and occupied by foreign powers. So we disregard anything connected with this part of our history. But does that really help us???? Destroying our past simply help other people re-write their versions of history for us. By remaining in denial that we have ever been victims of foreign powers in the past, it means we could never reclaim justice and are denying our future generations an important part of their heritage.

So please don't use that bullshit excuse of "oh, it's too shameful, let's erase that bit of history and pretend it never happened". That kind of immature attitude does not befit a people with thousands of years of history. Now that China is apparently bigger and better, we should be prepared to face our own history in the last century in its totality, warts and all. We have to come to terms with our past, even those apparently shameful bits*, because we are only cheating ourselves if we are to remain in denial.

*Clarification - I wrote "apparently shameful", because, in the case of HK being a British colony due to the unequal treaty, while the fact of its inception was indeed shameful, but that does NOT at all mean that for 99 years Hong Kong people have anything to be ashamed of. Far from it. HK peoople made the best of a bad situation and have done themselves proud. We have developed ourselves into a first class Asian city, with a highly-educated, highly-skilled, law-abiding and healthy populace. What's wrong then with being proud to be from Hong Kong? Generations of people have lived and worked in HK and made HK to be the city that it is today. Destroying our colonial heritage would not change the fact that the land we live on was indeed shamefully sold off to the British; it will only mean we're denying ourselves the opportunity to celebrate how far we have come from that shameful starting point.

In addition to the above, I also commented on the same event on Seechuen's blog. He was among the protestors on the day when they held a public debate at the Pier itself, with the promised attendance of the official in charge of overseeing the redevelopment of the site. Sadly, nothing came to fruition in the end, and the Queen's Pier was forcefully cleared of protestors...

Although I live overseas so unfortunately I cannot join you in your very legitimate protest, but am offering you guys my 110% moral support!

“政府半年前清拆天星時仍抵賴說它未足五十歲,故無法評級。” @@?? WTF?? I cannot believe the cheek of the Tsang administration! This stupid 50 year rule would mean the vast majority of built developments in the second half of the HK colonial years would be automatically disqualified for preservation, no matter how symbolically significant that piece of architecture is to the development of HK in becoming the city it is today. And now even when the Queen’s pier passes such draconian criterion for preservation, it is still NOT being preserved, so what’s the point of having it as a listed monument then??? What’s the point of having that “古物諮詢委員” at all if they are not going to carry out their proper remit??? According to what principles did the 發展局 operate its development strategy, if there was a properly thought-through strategy at all?? Was the public well informed and properly consulted?? How precisely?? Does the Tsang administration realise that its remit is to serve the public, first and foremost?? Could they still say that they are doing a “good job” of being a public servant if they don’t listen to the public at all?? Can that 林鄭月娥 answer the above questions without bullshiting?? I wait with bated breath…

p.s. Typos in my original comments are amended here.

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